By Etienne Mainimo Mengnjo
YAOUNDE, Cameroon- Call him Bernard Wirsiy Bongkisheri, but colleagues in the film industry know him as ‘Uncle B’. The legendary actor hails from Kumbo in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. As old as the industry and having remained relevant till date, Uncle B is described as the godfather in the industry. He is not only making his fans proud, but has been on top of the game, generation after generation.
The story of ‘Uncle B’ dates back to 1988 when he joined the GHS Kumbo Drama Cub. With the proliferation of Nigerian movies in Kumbo, he began admiring acting and in the early 90s. He featured in his first movie that was produced in Kumbo, titled ‘Tradition in Want of Sacrifices’.
The anxiety and popularity from this particular movie compelled him to write and produce a movie titled ‘Foreign Blood’. Today, the burning desire alongside his amiable and sociable moves in the industry has made him an all-round actor. His determination is also paving a successful path for many emerging actors and actresses in the industry.
His admiration of Cameroonian actors like Samson Vugar, Vitalis Otia, Elizabeth Ngongang, Banks Bantar, Jeffrey Epule, Gham Bates and others out of Cameroon, including Morgan Freeman, Samuel L Jackson, Angelina Jolie, Whoopi Goldberg, Leon Schuster, Tyler Perry, Danzel Washington, Sam Loco, Eucharia Anunobi and Zack Orji, have deepened his love for the movie industry.
Besides seeing himself as an entertainer, a teacher, an educationist and moralist, Uncle B sees himself on set as a vehicle through which stories get to reach the society.
“On set I see myself as an entertainer. This makes me work relentlessly to research and propose additional instances of humour that would make my fans stay glued to their screens. I also see myself as a teacher, an educationist, moralist, and so on. I am, therefore, the vehicle through which the messages get to reach the audiences,” Bernard Wirsiy intimated.
Since his entry into the movie industry, he has come across so many challenges. “The challenge of being in a cast that is entirely friends of the Director, family members and even when the key role is played by the Producer, simply because of his or her money, kills the art,” he states.
Getting the scripts while already on set and the fact that “most producers hardly pay, especially the cast, not to talk of providing them with transportation to and from the set, feeding and good accommodation when an actor is away from his or her hometown, handicaps the production process.”
He also points out that the industry has not been a bed or roses, with prevalent challenges such as lack of basic production means, poor marketing, very poor media exposure, lack of spaces where the public can always consume our films as well as lukewarm-ness by most actors to do proper research on the role they are to play before coming on set. These are some of the problems that hinder the industry from progressing.
“Pride has made some of us in the film industry think we have arrived and don’t need to work hard to improve on our acting skills. Many cliques have been created within the industry and they spend time criticising each other, rather than looking for ways in order to ameliorate our productions. Insults are quite rife between members of one clique and the other. This is not helping us at all,” Uncle B said.
To come out of this trouble and be at the top, he said, “cinematographers and the actors need to constantly research on the prevailing techniques and skills required. Film producers should also come together and tackle the problems of the film industry as one body.”
They also need to, “work collectively, selflessly… support and promote other movies… not just the ones you feature in or produce. The Government, through the Ministry of Arts and Culture, should create an enabling environment that is conducive for film production. The Ministry should seek for the financial means to boost the industry with. Cameroonians should learn to consume their own movies.
“In order to contribute in making the industry a better one, I own a theatre troupe based in Yaoundé ‘Rainbow Interactive Association’. We train theatre personnel, actors and actresses for both theatre and film.”
Despite the challenges, Bernard Wirsiy has featured in over 40 movies including; A Pregnant Couple, Full Moon, Foreign Illusion, The Cure, Afrokons, Fatima’s Tale, Dzemakou, Bossy Addiction, Clash of Rings, Tyrant, Internal Issues, Justice for Sale, Evil Throne, Agatha the Virgin Housewife, Campus War and A Broken Peta, among others.